The problem with monopolies

My poor mother is struggling with a monop0ly in her care facility.  She and the gal who does hair there are at odds.

Two things before I go any further:  First, when it comes to her looks, my mother is extremely vain and, therefore, when it comes to hair stylists, she’s a PITA.  At her age, she’s entitled to be.  Feistiness is one of the things that keeps her going.  Second, because of her mobility problems, my mom cannot go elsewhere.  She needs the specially-designed chair that they have at her care facility.

So, as I said, Mom and the gal are at odds:  Mom wants a perm every six weeks and a cut that looks exactly as poodle-cuts did circa 1955.  The hairstylist wants Mom to have a softer, yet more tailored, look, so she’s trying to get her to have fewer perms and a slightly more architectural cut.  I tend to agree with the stylist, but it’s Mom’s hair after all, right?  And she’s the customer, right?

Unfortunately for Mom, the answer to those questions is, “No, not right.’  The hairstylist has a monopoly.  Mom can’t go anywhere else, so the stylist refuses to give her perms until at least two months have gone by and she makes the cuts more architectural than Mom likes.  I try to tell Mom she looks fabulous, but Mom doesn’t like what she sees in the mirror.

Equally unfortunately, Mom has fallen back on the only tactic she can think off:  she’s abusive to the hairstylist.  I’ve tried telling her that it’s not a good idea to pick a fight with the woman who wields scissors on your hair, but Mom is determined to yell and insult so loudly that the hairdresser will, of course, yield.

My Mom seems to be too elderly to understand that she has no leverage whatsoever.  There is nowhere else she can go and no one else who can do her hair.  Her choices are to make nice with this gal (which will not change the gal’s behavior, but will make their interactions more pleasant), or to let her hair go wild and free.  That’s the nature of a monopoly:  when there’s only one provider of goods and services that you need (or that you think you need), that provider has all the power.

The Obamacare exchange, of course, proves this point perfectly.  Ignore for a moment the fact that the government is dictating the nature of the product sold, and just focus on the exchange.  The exchange is the sole portal through which people can purchase goods.  To the extent there’s still a limited marketplace, it’s hidden behind that portal.

In the real world, if I’m having problems finding flights with Kayak, I switch to Expedia.  Or, as I recently discovered, I turn to a good, old-fashioned travel agent, who got me a better price on flights than I was able to do on my own.   With the exchange, however, if I can’t get past the gate’s guardian, I’m done.  No amount of cajoling or invective will change that fact.

Competition is the beginning, the middle, and the end of good service for consumers.  Take away competition and you’ve got tyranny, whether in the marketplace or the political theater.

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  • Caped Crusader

    Those of us who have dealt with mothers almost ninety know exactly the situation you are in, and feel your pain worse than Bill Clinton ever could, and at the same time are laughing to keep from crying. Good luck, and we will pray for you, that this stress will not increase any plaques on your arteries.

  • Texan99

    You’re entirely correct, of course, about Obamacare, but I wanted to say what a chord your mother’s dilemma strikes in me after the experience of my aunt, whom we lost last year at the age of 96.  It seems horrible to contemplate that someone offering services in a nursing home would bully her charges that way, but it’s all too common.  It’s one thing if a nurse administrator has to be inflexible about hospital procedures that affect cost or safety, but what excuse has a hair stylist to ignore the purely aesthetic preferences of a trapped and helpless customer?  Truly disgusting.
    When the time comes perhaps I should just barricade myself in my house.  I was sorry to lose my father at the relatively young age of 75, but I’m so grateful he was able to die at home.  His doctors tried to force him into a hospital by withholding comfort care on any other basis, but we got around them, with some difficulty, by bringing in home-based hospice care.  Their sabotage efforts were not quite successful!  All they could do was upset us tremendously at a time when we had limited emotional reserves.
    My mother-in-law is now in her late 80s and living alone.  She has rather more money that she can quite bring herself to spend.  I try to persuade her that the key to staying in her own home is to hire enough help.  She hates the expense and the intrusion, but there will come a time when it’s the only way to keep people like that hair stylist from subjecting her to petty tyrannies.  When I think of some of the Nurse Ratched business I witnessed . . . .
    More and more I turn my mind to what I can do to plan financially to avoid the clutches of those people.  I will not do well in their care.

  • David Foster

    Good analogy. What a “progressive” would say in response, most likely, is that there are cases where one is equally at the monopolistic mercy of a private corporation…for example, when you’ve already got a bad disease so you’re stuck with your health insurer and their claim-submission and review procedures, however awful those might be.
    What this argument ignores, of course, is the factor of *reputation*…while a particular customer might be stuck, news of their bad experience will indeed influence customers who are not yet stuck in their choice of HC insurer.
    But this is all very difficult for many people to understand. The idea that things work best when managed top-down seems to be almost wired into the minds of many.

  • Robert Arvanitis

    New perspective with Obama.
    With Obamacare as with all other such dirigiste impositions — the government is the farmer, the doctor is the vet, and the patient, you and me and all the others, are the cow.
    BECAUSE the farmer pays, he is the patron of the vet. The vet is beholden to the farmer.
    And the rest of us are cared for at the whim of the farmer.  Not enough milk, Bossie?  Not enough “quality adjusted life years”?  Don’t make the cut for the death panels?  Too bad!
    It’s up to the farmer, not you.  No more “sovereign citizens” of the US,  Only cows.

  • bkivey

    Obamacare. Not doing it. Penalties be damned. I suspect I won’t be the only one.

  • Ymarsakar

    Sheep, dogs, cows, slaves. What difference would it make at this point which one Americans are now under the Regime?

  • Texan99

    What I think is at greater length at Grim’s Hall,, but it amounts to this:  I’m starting to think going bare is the right choice for me, too.  Screw the penalty and the premium. I should be saving the $10K-12K every year against a medical catastrophe instead.  If this stupid law prevails, I’m only saving against one terrible year, not a lifetime of bills, because I can get reinsured at the end of the year.  If the law fails, I’ll take my chances on getting reinsured, or just keep banking the avoided premiums and plan on getting any expensive surgery in Costa Rica.  The more I see of the treatment for severe illness, the more I’d rather die.  I’ve just had it.  Time to get out of the pool.  Let this thing crash and burn.

  • Earl

    I know you’re swamped right now, BW….but this is your Mom!!  Don’t make her put up with this!!
    First, is there a hairdresser that your Mom has used who will do what she wants….one that you could talk to and see if she’d be willing to come in and do her hair for her after hours?  Yeah, it’s going to cost more, but if it’s affordable……  Second, is there ANY alternative to this care home for your Mom – places that are reasonably near the current place and that have openings?  Not that she wants to move, but I suspect she won’t have to, if you play your cards right to get her taken care of.  If you can think of any other ways to solve her problem and put pressure on those who are (supposedly) serving her needs, include those in the list.
    Then, use your connections to get a nice lawyerly letter (on letterhead) written to the Administrator of the current care home (with copies to whatever entity is above it – diocese, corporation, etc.), explaining the situation with the hairdresser, and stating that if this isn’t taken care of, you are going to report them to the Better Business Bureau, as well as whatever Federal or State licensing agencies regulate care homes.  Furthermore, if nothing is done your mother will be reconsidering her options as to where she wishes to live.  Offer options – the current hairdresser actually provides the service that your mother desires, or your mother’s preferred hairdresser will come in and use the facilities after hours, plus anything else realistic that comes to mind.
    Go to WAR!!

  • Texan99

    The problem is, of course, that they will absolutely retaliate against her mom as soon as our hostess leaves the premises.  There are untold numbers of ways to make a helpless resident miserable if she’s a “troublemaker.”
    But it’s true that the ultimate weapon is at least to make them think you have a choice and might move.  They may not be 100% complacent about their monopoly power.

  • Earl

    Well, yeah….anyone not willing to leave if it comes to that had better just hunker down.
    Better a constant (and losing) fight with a hairdresser than having the entire care home abusing you.
    On the other hand, if that’s the kind of place it is….does she WANT to stay there?
    I can’t tell if the Administration is even aware of what the hairdresser is doing…….that makes a big difference.

  • Bookworm

    My mother has no other hairdresser, nor is she physically able to get a perm from anyone else.

    Management knows about this hairdresser — and complains about her too.  As is often the case with poor employees nowadays, they can’t or won’t fire her.

  • David Foster

    Is the hairdresser full-time at the care facility, or does she also do outside commercial work?
    The reason I ask is that I’m remembering a story from Peter Drucker:
    Drucker compared two foundries, both of which were components of large manufacturing companies. In company A, the foundry was a purely internal operation–it made castings only for use in the company’s own manufacturing operations. In company B, the foundry made castings for internal use, but was also allowed to sell its services on the open market.

    Over the years, Drucker observed, the company “A” foundry did a workmanlike job, but nothing spectacular. The same guy ran the place for well over a decade. The company “B” foundry, on the other hand, was continually at the forefront of innovation–and several of the foundry managers had been promoted to other parts of the business.
    So having to deal with customers who *did* have a choice, in addition to the internal captive customers, made a real difference in how the foundry did its job.

  • Earl

    I’m guessing the hairdresser has a contract….and management doesn’t want to try and break it over her poor performance.  Furthermore, the number of folks who want to do hairdressing for a care home must be somewhat limited.  If the managers aren’t really into caring for the residents “above and beyond”, they won’t go to the work of trying to find someone else….just renew the contract and continue complaining.
    Does your Mom have friends on the “outside” who have hairdressers who might be willing to come in and use the facilities at the care home after hours?  Do you or any of your friends?
    Clearly, it’s pretty easy for me to sit here and tell you what you ought to be doing — feel free to ignore me if this isn’t helpful.

  • Bookworm

    There’s no one who will — or can — come in and do my Mom’s hair.  Because of physical limitations, she needs the chair that the current gal controls.

    And David, this is her place.  She has a contract to provide hair care for all the ladies there.

    The hairdresser gal is correct about my Mom’s hair and my Mom is, as I said, a PITA when it comes to these things — but it’s still wrong that my Mom is trapped the way she is, as is the case for all the little old ladies with mobility problems. 

  • Ymarsakar

    She’s an Obama. You try firing an Obama, and Michelle will cut off your food and water like they did to Schiavo.